Normally I have posts about research, tools, or games for Autism, but today I thought I would talk about what it's like to be a parent with an Autistic child. There are probably many parents out there with the same story, and I'm sure many of you parents of neurotypical children can relate to a certain extent.
Why? Because first and foremost an autistic child is a child. And like all other children, your autistic child will have wants, needs, discipline, rewards, and so on. The only difference is with some autistic children they can't speak, or they can't sit still, or continue to do harm to themselves. And they often take longer to learn from verbal commands than neurotypical children.
But, even between autistic families, autism can be very, very different in its symptoms and manifestations. Let me share a couple of my experiences with my son.
My son loves the outdoors for a number of reasons. One, he likes to turn water on and off, and play in water. This isn't so bad in the summer time, unless there is talk of water restrictions. The problem is, you can't just tell him to stop, because he doesn't listen. He is too focused. I can yell until I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't do any good. So, we turn the water off for him, and usually take him inside.
Another thing about the outdoors he likes is being able to play in the dirt. He loves the feel of sand and soil, either dry or muddy (lately it's been muddy). He also likes the feel of it in his mouth, so he consistently will eat sand, dirt, and place rocks in his mouth. This brings up all sorts of potential problems, as eating dirt is a good way to introduce e. coli into the system. Therefore we are constantly on guard with this habit.
Another outdoors thing he likes to do is run across the street to the neighbors back yard, whether anyone is there or not. He does not look for oncoming cars, and lately there have been quite a few teenagers and 20-somethings come speeding down that street. It's not open to anything but our little neighborhood, but eventually will be open to a new development to the East of us. This has me scared. It also has me scared that he will just walk into someone else's yard without asking. We are working on that currently, and it's helpful to know that our neighbors are aware of the situation and are tolerant.
So that's the Outdoors. In order to deal with these issues, we have taken to adding chains to the doors (which only hamper him for a few minutes until he gets a chair), and we have the back yard fenced in with a fence soon coming for the front yard. It doesn't have to be a big fence, just big enough to deter him (about 4 feet tall should be fine). These have worked in keeping him in the back yard to date.
For the water, we remove the valve handles, so he cannot turn them on or off. This also lowers the amount of mud in the back yard (except in the garden, where he has a path through the corn already). But we also limit the amount of time outside, so there is less of a chance of him getting a large, active colony of e. coli into his stomach.
Another issue is his learning. This is something that even my own family has taken a criticizing view of, as they feel we are not working enough with our son. The thing is, we spend many hours working with him either directly or supervising his use of a number of learning programs on the computer or on his iPod. His time is spent learning to spell, learn letters and numbers, and learning to count items (not just read numbers). He is exceptionally bright, and often is self motivating in a number of these areas.
For personal time, he will often bring a book and will "teach" me the letters he sees. He will point at the letter using my finger, and then have me read it. What's really cool is I can't trip him up by saying the wrong letter. That's what really has me excited. That, and I have already started to teach him to count in German, and he knows the difference based on whether I say "one" or "eins". He then proceeds to say the numbers in either English or German in his slurred manner (he can do vowel sounds really well, though his consonants are not too defined).
For his own work, he will pull the iPod out and go through various apps we have downloaded (either free or paid), and play with them. Some are games, some are stories, some are just matching tools. All of them are learning tools, which has helped him learn to spell, read, and identify colors. The only thing that concerns me is often he will switch the languages on these apps to Chinese, which I don't know.
My son also does a lot of playing, and loves to wrestle. He has actually developed some great social skills this way, and loves to tickle. We found that out when he tried to tickle a little girl while we were waiting at a restaurant. That was quite the embarrassing experience, though her parents thought it was cute. He also will head-butt or dig his chin into someone when he gets too excited. This is a problem, and one we are working slowly to correct.
Since he stopped school in the fall, he seems to be regressing in a number of areas. I imagine a lot of parents see this in their children, though I don't really know how that works with neurotypical children myself. He does tend to be less vocal during the summer, and more likely to have accidents. Though, unlike before, if we ask him if he needs to use the toilet, he will then go and do it. That's an improvement, and something we are proud of.
So, I hope this little snapshot of our life with our son helps outline the scares and cares that come with an autistic child. He is very loving, smiles all the time, and has a great sense of humor, he just doesn't talk. His actions and moods swing from a 2-yr old to a 15-yr old in an instant, though he is generally in a good, happy mood. For that, we are grateful. We love him to bits, and I look forward to seeing his improvement as we continue to work with him.